Three colonies had governors appointed by their official proprietors, and two colonies elected their own governors. In the other eight colonies, the king appointed usually competent governors (not counting the dunderhead governor Peter Zenger exposed in New York — see "Literature, libraries, and the birth of American journalism" earlier in this chapter). The colonies had two legislative bodies like the modern U.S. Senate and House of Representatives (see Chapter 9). The Senate-type legislators usually were appointed, and the House-type representatives were elected by all the people who had the right to vote, generally white men who owned property.
Property wasn't too expensive in a land with miles of open space, so getting the right to vote wasn't hard. The House, elected by the people, had some major power over the governor; it controlled his salary. The colonies had the most democratic government known in the world up to that time.
MAKING MONEY IN COLONIAL AMERICA
Due in large part to the plentiful goods they produced and traded, the colonies also provided the highest average standard of living people had ever seen. The most profitable goods of the period included the following:
- The Middle colonies produced enough wheat to make all the bread the colonists could eat and still export thousands of barrels of flour. The United States was (and is still) the world's leading wheat exporter.
- Tobacco was a big money-maker for Virginia and Maryland. Taxes on tobacco made up one-third of U.S. government revenue until long after the Civil War.
- With a seemly unending supply of codfish off the coast of New England, boatloads were exported to Europe. Although cod is no longer as plentiful, the fish was so important to the growth of New England that a "Sacred Cod" still hangs in the Massachusetts House of Representatives.
- New England fishing led to shipbuilding and provided training for thousands of Yankee sailors to man American ships. With a plentiful lumber supply, by the time of the Revolution, the colonies were building a third of all the ships in the British trading fleet.
- North America had a lock on beaver pelts, and any man who was fashionable in Europe just had to have a beaver fur hat.
- Making cloth at home, American women outfitted their families for free and often had extra linen to sell.
- Before the Revolution, America had more small iron forges than England did. One famous place — Valley Forge, Pennsylvania — was even named for its iron works.